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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.


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Cypselus Pacificus.
(Australian Swift.)

  • Hirundo pacifica, Lath. Ind. Orn. Suppl. ii. p. lviii (1801).

  • New-Holland Swallow, Lath. Syn. Suppl. ii. p. 259 (1801).

  • Cypselus pacificus, Steph. Cont. of Shaw’s Gen. Zool. vol. x. p. 132 (1817).

  • Hirundo apus, var. β, Pall. Zool. Ross.-Asiat. tom. i. p. 540 (1831).

  • Cypselus australis, Gould in Proc. Zool. Soc. part vii. 1839, p. 141.

  • Cypselus vittata, Jard. Ill. Orn. ser. 2, pl. 39 (1840).

  • Micropus australis, Boie, Isis, 1844, p. 165.

  • Micropus vittata, id. tom. cit.

  • Cypselus australis, Gould, Birds of Austr. fol. vol. ii. pl. xi. (1848).

  • Cypselus pacificus, Gould, Handb. Birds of Austr. vol. i. p. 105 (1865).

Descr. exempl. ex N. Z. Suprà nigricanti-brunneus: dorso metallicè nitente: uropygio albo: subtùs intensè fusco: gutture cinerascenti-albo: plumis pectoris abdominisque angustè albo marginatis: remigibus caudâque nigricantibus: rostro nigro: pedibus nigris.

New-Zealand example. Crown of the head and general upper surface blackish brown, with a metallic lustre on the back and upper surface of wings and tail; rump pure white; throat and upper part of fore neck greyish white; the rest of the under surface blackish brown, but paler on the lower fore neck and under tail-coverts; the feathers of the breast and abdomen narrowly tipped with white; quills and tail-feathers brownish black, the shafts greyish towards the base on their under aspect; the inferior primaries, the whole of the secondaries, and the inner lining of the wings minutely margined with greyish white. Bill and feet black. Total length 7·75 inches; wing, from flexure, 7·2; tail 3; bill, along the ridge ·3, along the edge of lower mandible ·8; tarsus ·5; middle toe and claw ·55.

Young (Australian specimen in British Museum). Has the plumage of the head, shoulders, and back very narrowly margined with paler brown; in front of each eye an angular spot of black and above that a line of greyish white; throat greyish white, with indistinct shaft-lines of brown; the plumage of the under-parts conspicuously marked in crescents, each feather becoming black in its apical portion and then broadly tipped with greyish white; the lining of wings uniform dark brown; the whole of the rump white with fine black shaft-lines; under tail-coverts broadly tipped with white.

Obs. The only sexual difference is that the female has somewhat duller plumage than the male. The amount of white on the throat is very variable, being reduced in some specimens to a mere wash of fulvous-white. The extent of white also on the uropygium varies much in individual examples, sometimes spreading down to the thighs.

One of the most recent cases, and perhaps the most interesting, of the occurrence of common Australian forms in New Zealand is that of the Swift, which made its appearance for the first time, so far as we know, in the history of the colony, in December 1884.

On seeing the newspaper accounts of the flight which had visited the White Cliffs (near the town of New Plymouth) I naturally concluded that this was another instance of the Tree-Swallow visitant from Australia, with which we had already become familiar.

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Fortunately, however, one of the birds had been shot, and the skin having been forwarded to me in a fresh condition, I saw at a glance that we had now to add another bird to our list of species.

Major W. B. Messenger, to whom I am indebted for this unique specimen, sent me also the following notes:—

“Respecting the Swift I shot here, I am glad to be able to furnish you with particulars. One evening, at about 6 P.M., four strange birds were flying about the camp, evidently in pursuit of insects. Their flight so reminded me of that of the Swift, that to make sure I shot one and took it to the office of the ‘Taranaki Herald.’ I believed it to be an English Swift, but from what I have since heard, I conclude that it is an Australian bird. I did not know until I received your letter that Swallows had ever been seen in New Zealand.”

In bringing this Australian bird before the Zoological Society in October 1839, Mr. Gould wrote:—“This species is about the size of Cypselus murarius. I first met with it on the 8th March, 1839. They were in considerable abundance, but flying very high. I succeeded in killing one, which was immediately pronounced by Mr. Coxen to be new to the colony. On the 22nd I again saw a number of these birds hawking over a piece of cleared land at Yarrondi, on the Upper Hunter; upon this occasion I obtained six specimens, but have not met with it since.”

In his account of the species in his ‘Birds of Australia’ he adds:—“Those I then observed were flying high in the air, and performing immense sweeps and circles, while engaged in the capture of insects. I succeeded in killing six or eight individuals, among which were adult examples of both sexes; but I was unable to obtain any particulars as to their habits and economy. It would be highly interesting to know whether this bird, like the Swallow, returns annually to spend the months of summer in Australia. I think it likely that this may be the case, and that it may have been frequently confounded with Acanthylis caudacuta, as I have more than once seen the two species united in flocks, hawking together in the cloudless skies, like the Martins and Swallows of England. It is considered by some ornithologists that this bird and the Swift with crescentic markings of white on the breast, which inhabits China and Amoorland, are the same. If this supposition be correct, this species ranges very widely over the surface of the globe.”

The British-Museum collection contains specimens from N. S. Wales, Queensland, Tasmania, Cape York, Formosa, Penang, Tenasserim, Assam, Japan, China, and Siberia.

I have carefully examined all these examples and can find nothing whatever to justify specific separation, although as a rule the birds from India and China have a larger and therefore more conspicuous patch of white on the throat.

The specimen from Japan differs from typical examples in having black shaft-lines on the throat; but there is an exactly similar one from Cape York obtained during the voyage of H.M.S. ‘Rattle-snake.’

There is, however, a bird in immature plumage from the Hume Collection, marked “Cypselus pacificus, ♂, Bankasoon,” which may prove to be distinct. It is of appreciably smaller size, the wing from the flexure being fully half an inch shorter; the throat-patch is covered with linear brown markings, and the whole of the uropygium is greyish white with dark shaft-lines.

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Eurystomus Pacificus.
(Australian Rollers.)

  • Coracias pacifica, Lath. Ind. Orn. Suppl. ii. p. xxvii (1801).

  • Pacific Roller, Lath. Gen. Syn. Suppl. ii. p. 371 (1801).

  • Galgulus pacificus, Vieill. Encycl. Méth. tom. ii. p. 870 (1823).

  • Eurystomus australis, Swains. Anim. in Menag. p. 326 (1838).

  • Eurystomus pacificus, G. R. Gray, Ann. Nat. Hist. 1843, vol. xi. p. 190.

  • Eurystomus australis, Gould, Birds of Austr. fol. vol. ii. pl. 17 (1848).

  • Eurystomus pacificus, Id. Handb. Birds of Austr. vol. i. p. 119 (1865).

  • Eurystomus pacificus, Buller, Manual of Birds of N. Z. p. 7 (1882).

Descr. exempl. ex N. Z. Suprà pallidè viridi-griseus: tectricibus alarum minoribus dorso concoloribus, medianis et majoribus lætiùs cyaneo-viridibus: alâ spurâ, tectricibus primariorum remigibusque nigris, extùs purpureo-cæruleis, cyaneo marginatis, primariis basin versus plagâ magnâ pallidè argentescenti-cyaneâ notatis: secundariis intimis viridioribus: caudâ nigrâ, basaliter viridi, medialiter purpurascenti-cyaneâ: pileo toto brunneo, versus interscapulium brunnescente pallidè viridi-cyaneo lavato: loris nigricantibus: regione paroticâ brunneâ: gulâ cyanescente, plumis medialiter argentescenti-cyaneo angustè lineatis: mento et gulæ lateribus brunneis: corpore reliquo subtùs pallidè viridi-cyaneo, pectore summo obscuriore: subcaudalibus et subalaribus pallidè viridi-cyaneis: alis subtùs purpureis, versus apicem nigris, plagâ basali magnâ argentescenti-cyaneâ.

New-Zealand specimen. Head and hind neck dark brown; shoulders, back, and scapulars dull brownish green, becoming brighter on the rump and upper tail-coverts and tinged with blue in certain lights; upper surface of wings greenish blue, brighter on the large primary-coverts; lores black; throat dark purplish blue, each feather with a central streak of lighter blue; under surface generally dull greenish blue, paler on the lining of the wings and under tail-coverts, and suffused with brown on the breast and sides of the body; quills black on their upper surface, the first primary margined externally with indigo-blue and having on its inner web towards the base a broad bar of pale silvery blue, which increases on the four succeeding primaries and occupies both webs, forming in the open wing a conspicuous rounded patch, the shafts brown, and the outer webs beyond indigo-blue shading into black; the secondaries and tertials bright indigo on their outer webs changing in the former to bluish green towards the base; tail-feathers on their upper surface bluish green at the base, changing to bright indigo in their central portion and becoming entirely black beyond; under surface of wing- and tail-feathers with a bright blue lustre, shot with green and purple in certain lights. Irides dark brown; bill orange-red, shading into black at the tip of upper mandible, and becoming yellow towards the base of under mandible; legs and feet pale reddish brown. Total length 10·5 inches; wing, from flexure, 7·75; tail 4; bill, along the ridge 1, along the edge of lower mandible 1·25; tarsus ·6; middle toe and claw 1·25.

Young (Australian specimen in British Museum). General plumage dull brownish grey, paler on the underparts; crown of the head, hind neck, and shoulders dark brown; lores black; the whole of the fore neck dull brown, faintly washed on the throat with metallic green; the whole of the wing-coverts pale bluish green; primaries and secondaries black, the former in their basal portion and the latter in their whole extent broadly edged on their outer webs with dark blue, fading into green; the primaries crossed in their middle portion by a band of pale silvery blue, fading into white on their inner webs; tail-feathers green towards the base, blue in the middle, and black in their apical portion. Bill brownish black; legs and feet yellowish brown.

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Obs. “The sexes are alike in plumage. Irides dark brown; eyelash, bill, and feet red; inside of the mouth yellow.” (Gould.)

The first occurrence of this bird in New Zealand was recorded by Mr. F. E. Clarke in a communication to the Westland Institute, on the 18th February, 1881*, the author regarding it as the representative of a new genus which he characterized as Hirundolanius. His description of the form left no doubt on my mind that the bird was the common Australian Roller, and the subsequent receipt of the specimen itself at the Colonial Museum confirmed that view. Another example (now in my collection) was shortly afterwards obtained at Parihaka, a few miles from New Plymouth. There is a specimen in the Auckland Museum shot by Mr. Cowan in a patch of bush near the sea, at Piha Bay, about ten miles north of Manukau harbour, towards the end of 1881; Mr. Tryon has in his possession the skin of another obtained near the Waiwakaio river, in the district of Taranaki, about a month later; and the Canterbury Museum contains a specimen received about the same period from Westland .

Thus the bird has occurred almost simultaneously at no less than four places, far apart from one another, but all on the west coast; and, although of course only a visitant from Australia, the species has fully established its right to a place in the New-Zealand avifauna.

Mr. Caley, writing of this Roller in New South Wales, says §:—“It is a bird of passage. The earliest period of the year at which I have noticed it was on the 3rd of October, 1809; and I have missed it early in February. It is most plentiful about Christmas.”

Mr. Gould gives us the following account of its habits:—

“In Australia the Roller would appear to be a very local species, for I have never seen it from any other part of the country than New South Wales; but the late Mr. Elsey informed me that he found it very common in the Victoria basin, and that it became very numerous about the head of the Lynd. It arrives early in spring, and, having brought forth its progeny, retires northwards on the approach of winter. It appeared to be most active about sunrise and sunset; in sultry weather it was generally perched upon some dead branch in a state of quietude. It is a very bold bird at all times, but particularly so during the breeding-season, when it attacks with the utmost fury any intruder that may venture to approach the hole in the tree in which its eggs are deposited.

“When intent upon the capture of insects it usually perches upon the dead upright branch of a tree growing beside and overhanging water, where it sits very erect, until a passing insect attracts its notice, when it suddenly darts off, secures its victim, and returns to the same branch; at other times it may constantly be seen on the wing, mostly in pairs, flying just above the tops of the trees, diving and rising again with many rapid turns. During flight the silvery-white spot on the centre of each wing shows very distinctly, and hence the name of Dollar Bird bestowed upon it by the Colonists.

“It is a very noisy bird, particularly in dull weather, when it often emits its peculiar chattering note during flight.

“It is said to take the young Parrots from their holes and kill them, but this I never witnessed; the stomachs of the many I dissected contained the remains of Coleoptera only.

“The breeding-season lasts from September to December; and the eggs, which are three and sometimes four in number, are deposited in the hole of a tree, without any nest; they are of a

* Trans. N.-Z. Instit. vol. xiii. p. 454.

Cf. Cheeseman, op. cit. vol. xiv. pp. 264–265.

“In addition to Mr. F. E. Clarke’s note, it may be mentioned that an old Australian, then living at Okarito, was certain that he had seen the bird in the Queen Charlotte’s Sound district.” (Journ. of Science, ii. p. 275.)

§ Trans. Linn. Soc. vol. xv. p. 202.

page 120 beautiful pearly white, considerably pointed at the smaller end; their medium length is one inch and five lines, and breadth one inch and two lines.”

Sir T. M. Mitchell states that on dissecting a specimen obtained in N.E. Australia he found the stomach crammed with wasps and coleopterous insects.

Dr. Ramsay writes*:—“I found this bird nesting in the hollow Eucalyptus boughs on the Richmond river in 1867. They make no nest, but lay their eggs on the dust formed by decayed wood; not unfrequently they fight with and dispossess the Dacelo gigas, and I have seen them take the young of this bird and throw them out of the nest. The eggs are two or three in number, of a dull white, rather glossy, and sometimes variable in form, some being oval and pointed, others almost round.”

This species occurs on Lord Howe’s Island, where there is a perceptible blending of Australian and New-Zealand forms. It also abounds in some parts of New Guinea; and Mr. Macleay is of opinion that the birds which spend the summer in Australia pass on to the southern coast of New Guinea for the winter.

I have examined a large series of specimens collected by Mr. A. R. Wallace and others in the Malay Archipelago and now forming part of the magnificent collection of cabinet skins in the British Museum. There are specimens from Penang, Malacca, Labuan, Celebes, the Sula Islands, Timor, Lombock, Flores, Gilolo, Matabello Island, Bouru, Ceram, and Dorey. As a rule these differ from Australian birds in having the patch of blue on the throat of a brighter colour. The brightest of them all is an adult example from the Sula Islands. Another specimen from the same locality (evidently a young bird) differs in having all the colours much duller, and instead of the throat-patch of purplish blue a mere wash of the prevailing greenish colour, with just the faintest tinge of indigo on the sides of the throat. In this bird the bill is reddish yellow with a brownish ridge and tip.

Another specimen of the young (obtained by Mr. Wallace from Matabello Island) differs in having the general plumage lighter, with a small patch of purple mixed with grey on the throat, each feather having a central streak of cobalt-blue. In this example the feathers of the head and shoulders are narrowly, and those of the breast broadly, margined with grey; bill blackish brown, the outer edge of lower mandible dull yellow.

Eurystomus orientalis, Vig. & Horsf., although generally regarded as merely a local race, appears to me to be a good species, readily distinguishable from E. pacificus by its brighter plumage and decidedly darker head and neck; but after carefully comparing Mr. Wallace’s Javan specimen of E. cyanicollis, Wagl., with the former, I can find nothing to justify their separation.

Eurystomus crassirostris, Sclater, is appreciably larger and brighter than E. orientalis, although the colouring is the same, and its bill is conspicuously broader and more robust. This species, which comes from the Solomon group and New Guinea, is said to have dark red eyes.

Eurystomus azureus, G. R. Gray (brought by Wallace from Batchian), is a very distinct species, remarkable for its large size and uniform dark blue plumage. The young of this Roller has similar plumage to the adult, but the blue is of a duller hue, and the bill is blackish brown instead of being orange.

* Proc. Linn. Soc. N. S. W. vol. vii. p. 46.